IT Interacting With The Business

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      I know this isn’t exactly a technology topic, but I wanted to share my views about how IT interacts with the business, or rather the business interacts with their IT department.

      Most businesses now hire an IT department, engineer or have an IT contractor that supports them. Often the business doesn’t understand the finer details of most of the things that their IT department does, and how could they? It takes many years to train for an IT career and years thereafter to become experienced in that field. There is no way that someone else in the business could fully understand the implications of, or the finer points of most IT projects.

      So why, when businesses interact with their IT departments, do they try to understand and even dictate the operation of their IT department? Well, there can be a number of reasons, but these largely fall into one of three categories: Ego, lack of trust or inadequate reporting.


      Eco driven managers in business will want to control everything. They believe that they are so smart that they can understand all the details of an IT project because “they know computers”. The problem here is that experienced IT professionals have learned to work in a particular way that mitigates risk and improves quality of service.

      To give an example, the manager may want to buy a fleet of 1,000 PCs. The IT professional will get prices for branded PCs (HP business range, for example). The business manager will look at the price and say “I can get 1,000 whitebox PCs for 70% of that price”, and will do so.

      Later on a BIOS update will need to be made and there are no tools to do so in batch for the whitebox PCs, these will all have to be done manually costing 300 man hours. The whitebox PCs will have some sort of issue because they are an hardware configuration that’s been tested by the sale of 5,000 PC prior instead of the sale of 5 million PCs and a hardware developer. This will cost the business 300 man hours in IT labour (replacing parts) and 1,000 man hours in labour around the business.

      Obviously this is an over simplistic example, but could equally apply to other situations such as dictating technical configurations of an exchange server (cached mode vs non cached), terminal server disconnection timeouts, etc…

      Finally, this can also come about if the business manager doesn’t understand a technology, but their ego won’t let them admit that they don’t understand it. They probably perceive the IT professional to be a geek that needs to be managed.

      Lack of Trust

      IT people are often unlike others (though this stereotype has changed in the last 10 years). They’re often socially less capable, being shy, submissive, obtuse and even awkward in some cases. Consequently business managers often cannot relate to them easily. This (and sometimes other failures, which can be the result of a failure to communicate well face to face, in groups or on the spot) can cause managers around the business to have a lack of trust or faith in IT departments. For example, when being asked for a technological solution to a problem a manager might expect a quick response, while an IT professional may appear to zone out thinking about potential complications of particular solutions or the most appropriate solution, rather than simply saying “yes, something can be done but I’ll need some time to find something appropriate”. This lack of, or stuttered response may be misconstrued as a lack of knowledge or incompetence and can lead to business managers feeling that they need to take control.

      Inadequate Reporting

      This brings me to the final category, which is that IT professionals may not feed back to the business correctly. This can often cause the business to be in the dark about IT’s operations and cause panic (lack of trust or concerns that IT is not aligned with the business).

      These are all points that cause the business to become dictatorial when interacting with their IT department / staff. What should happen is that the business should focus on ensuring that their IT staff are professionals and able to work independently with a figurehead (IT manager) that sits at the same level as other managers in the business. This is so the business goals can be aligned with the IT road-map (for provisioning of services and planning). A well oiled IT department will get to the stage where they are no only providing an infrastructure for services, but also improving those services and making the business aware of other services that they could be offering (both internally and externally). A well oiled IT department should at this point have a figurehead working closely with the business directors so that they can help plan IT aspects of the business strategy. In order to do this, IT departments should be viewed as a service provider. To clarify this in the a fore mentioned example, the business should ask the IT department to purchase 1,000 PCs themselves; Actually that’s not a great example, because the business should give the IT department a budget for an annual hardware life-cycle project with additional money planned for projects that are planned growth as part of the business strategy. But the point is that the business should ask for the service and pay for it out of the IT departments budget (depending on your budgeting model).

      I’ll leave you with two examples of how the same business can interact with their IT department. The first is the most common model, the second is how it should be done.

      1. A warehousing company has 3 IT staff who support the infrastructure well, but are mostly fire fighting. They report to the Finance Manager. IT costs are 5% of the company’s total operational costs.
      2. A warehousing company has 3 IT staff who support the infrastructure well, but are mostly fire fighting. They report to the IT manager who has weekly meetings with the business directorate. The IT manager puts forward a business case to hire another member of staff. He takes on another member of staff who helps reduce the workload of the department and enables a member of the department to focus on a life-cycle project to update the environment. Meanwhile the IT manager focuses on identifying area’s of process improvement (such as proactive management of helpdesk calls and change management to improve service and an IT road-map that is aligned with the businesses goals – which helps budget planning the following year). Once the life-cycle project is underway the IT staff are better trained, do less firefighting because the environment is improved and are more motivated. It now only takes 2 IT staff to manage daily operations, while 2 other staff focus on implementing the IT road-map.With the department in shape, the IT Manager has more time to focus on business opportunities rather than business needs. After discussion with the directors and business, a lean-sigma style analysis is done on the business. The IT Manager by now has a better understanding of the business and has the IT background and knowledge to understand what technologies are available to improve processes. He puts together a business proposal to hire some developers to product an inventory management system that will reduce staff hours, improve quality of service and enable the business to be perceived by its customers as a leader in its industry.

        The inventory management software is such a success that profits are increased and the business decides to offer its service to other companies with warehouses as a cloud solution – which they are able to do because their IT department is so well tuned that they can offer reliable SLA’s to the business and their customers. The increase in demand means that 3 more IT staff are hired to cover additional costs.

        As their server infrastructure is so reliable and the company has had to hire so many IT staff to cover peak times, they find that IT staff utilization (while profitable) is only at 60% utilization at low demand times. Additional staff time is used to research and train staff to ensure service excellence and morale.

        As the IT staff are perceived in the area to be excellent and the company has the scale to incorporate a bit of extra load on their environment, it’s not a hard sell to expand the business into a managed service provider for smaller companies in the area who can’t afford to buy their own systems or hire their own highly skilled staff. This business then expands to offer additional services and hire additional IT staff, increasing the skill set and service levels to their internal customers through additional redundancy in their systems and enterprise scale technology and solutions.

        The innovative IT department are now a significant source of income for the company and are the cause of business diversity that ensures the company’s survival during a drop in demand for warehousing services.

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